“When school librarians collaborate with classroom teachers to enrich curriculum content, they help create more authentic learning experiences.”
—Dr. C. Beth Fitzsimmons, National Commission on Libraries and Information Science Chairperson (2004-2008)
Douglas County High School (DCHS) in Castle Rock, Colorado recently served as host to the National Library of Medicine’s (NLM) Every Necessary Care and Attention: George Washington and Medicine exhibit. The only high school west of the Mississippi to receive the 6-week exhibit, Peggy Cummings, the school’s Library Media Specialist, had to make a strong case to NLM to bring the exhibit to her site.
Cummings, who has been with DCHS for eleven years, was no stranger to planning exhibits and programming. She worked closely with the school’s social studies teaching staff to bring the Gilder Lehrman Looking at Lincoln: Political Cartoons from the Civil War Era exhibit to the library, and she has hosts an annual two-day event” Remembering Our Veteran’s” –in conjunction with the Douglas County public library archival staff. Cummings interest in hosting the George Washington exhibit was peaked with a listserv posting announcement, noting that resources like this can serve as a bridge between the classroom and the library. “There were so many facets to George Washington that were not as well-known as they should be. And this would provide a way to work with different academic departments. “
Figure 1 Peggy Cummings, Library Media Specialist
The exhibit explores the health and safety issues Washington faced in his personal, political, and military life. Medical practices during George Washington’s life (1732-1799) relied heavily on home remedies, herbal treatments, and hypothesis. Washington and his wife Martha had their share of illness; George survived anthrax, pneumonia, and skin cancer, and had continual issues with malaria. Martha contracted measles and suffered from gall bladder disease. Washington oversaw the medical care of his family, plantation staff, slaves, and troops at a time when medicine was just beginning to embrace evidence-based or scientific practice.
Figure 2 Six-panel exhibit with Washington cut-out for selfies and groupies.
Cummings saw great potential to include just about everyone in the school, and had two years to make it happen – the earliest the exhibit could be booked as it traveled across the country to various sites. She didn’t waste a minute, working to get support from administration, faculty and staff; hunting down supplementary materials – including a George Washington cutout; and, planning the budget. Engaging faculty was a continual effort – from talking about the exhibit at meetings, to sparking interest with frequent, short e-reminders. Cummings put together resources for the teachers to tie the exhibit into their class curriculum, for example comparing the modern day Ebola epidemic to Smallpox. She also involved the district’s school nurses – providing space for their monthly meeting and hosting an exhibit reception catered by the DCHS culinary students.
Figure 3 One of many interactive history learning stations.
Teachers embraced Cummings enthusiasm and many took on the challenge to integrate the rich history of the exhibit into their curriculum, and together developed “Essential Questions” for various academic areas:
- Art: How can you summarize historical events into a contemporary design looking piece?
- Family and Consumer Sciences: What Colonial foods are still available today and how can we incorporate these into a contemporary baked good menu?
- Language Arts: Does poetry influence culture of culture influence poetry? What is close reading of non-fiction text and how can I use this technique for all of my class readings?
- Music: How can I adapt Colonial piano music into a score for a string sextet?
- SNN Basic, Mild, Moderate (Special needs students): How can I incorporate a piece of information in the display into my research and final report?
- Social Studies: How did Americans influence the French Revolution, and the French influence the American Revolution? What primary source resources did the Founding Fathers use and how were these incorporated into the Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, and the U.S. Constitution?
- World Languages: How did Spain’s colonization of the new world differ between North and South America at the time of the American Revolution? What influence did the French and Indian War have on Washington, and later, what role did the French play in the Revolutionary War?
Figure 4 Students. Library staff and volunteers researched colonial towns and created signage to mimic the streets Washington might have walked.
Peggy’s Tips for Exhibit Success:
- Have the backing of who’s in charge.
- Have authority, there are a lot of nitty-gritty decisions you need to make.
- Plan ahead.
- Publicize ahead.
- Learn as you go.
- Ask for help and cooperation.
- Pace yourself, you will be working a lot of extra hours.
- Smile and enjoy.
Peggy’s Supplemental Exhibit Resources:
National Library of Medicine’s Exhibition Program:
Explore the exhibitions and educational resources about the social and cultural history of medicine. There are a number of traveling exhibits and a wealth of online materials, including lesson plans and online activities, that can be used to support K-12 health and science curriculums.